The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) returned to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, marking the end of a seven-month deployment to the U.S. 2nd, 5th and 6th Fleets with the USS Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (ARG).
While forward deployed aboard the ships of the USS Bataan ARG, the 26th MEU served as a crisis-response force for combatant commanders in the Europe, Africa and Central commands. The 26th MEU supported operations and engagements, conducted theater security cooperation activities with bilateral partners, and executed sustainment training to ensure the force was postured and prepared to respond to crises and contingencies.
“As a ‘certain force in an uncertain world’ the 26th MEU was flexible, resilient and adaptable while forward deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet and 6th Fleet areas of operation,” said Col. Trevor Hall, commanding officer of the 26th MEU. “This deployment presented unique challenges, but the Navy-Marine Corps team prevailed and incessantly provided our fleet commanders with a responsive, sea-based Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) – even during the global novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.”
Having deployed in December 2019, the 26th MEU was one of the few Marine Corps units forward deployed during the COVID-19 epidemic. As seaports and airports around the globe closed, the USS Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) with embarked 26th MEU adapted and developed creative ways to maintain its readiness.
While operating in the Arabian Gulf, the MAGTF executed non-live fire and live-fire training in remote locations in the United Arab Emirates and on uninhabited Saudi Arabian islands. This training preserved the MEU’s readiness – while also reducing COVID-19 exposure, which allowed the ARGMEU to remain a COVID-free force for the duration of its seven-month deployment.
Providing combatant and fleet commanders with sea-based aviation assets allows for versatility and extends the range of the ARGMEU’s combat radius. In U.S. 6th Fleet, the ARGMEU conducted interoperability exercises with regional partners. UH-1Y Venoms and AH-1W Super Cobras assigned to the MEU’s aviation combat element participated in a live-fire training exercise in Bize, Albania, and MV-22B Ospreys conducted deck landing qualifications aboard the French Navy ship Mistral while operating in the Mediterranean Sea.
The 26th MEU is comprised of Battalion Landing Team 2/8, Combat Logistics Battalion 26 and Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 365 (reinforced). Marines and Sailors assigned to the 26th MEU deployed aboard the flagship Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5), the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS New York (LPD 21) and the Harpers Ferry-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51).
“I am tremendously proud of what the Sailors and Marines of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group and 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit accomplished during this deployment, during which our team worked tirelessly to remain fully mission ready during the unprecedented challenge of a global pandemic,” said Capt. Lance Lesher, who served as commander of the ARG through its pre-deployment cycle and deployment until July 12, 2020.
There are more than 4,000 Sailors and Marines across the Bataan ARGMEU of which approximately 2,000 were a part of the 26th MEU.
ARGMEUs operate continuously across the globe and provide the geographic combatant commanders with a flexible, crisis-response force. The blue-green team is fully capable of conducting operations across a full spectrum of conventional, unconventional and hybrid warfare.